SKHIRAT, Morocco (AP) — The U.N. special envoy to Libya said Friday that all parties to ongoing peace talks would meet again on March 19 in Morocco for a "final, decisive phase of talks" after one side failed to show up for the latest round.
Bernardino Leon said that the delegations of the two rival parliaments in Libya would again consult with their respective governments before returning to the negotiating table before it was too late.
"They all have to come ready to negotiate, this is why they have been given a few more days," he told journalists after the latest round of talks near the Moroccan capital of Rabat. "We have conveyed to all parties the sense of urgency — Libya has no time."
The talks in Morocco hit a snag this week when the delegation from the Tobruk-based parliament — the elected and internationally recognized House of Representatives — did not return to talks after what had been described as a promising beginning.
Leon said the Tobruk delegation would return for talks after adding new advisers and members to their negotiators.
Central authority has broken down in Libya, with scores of competing militias battling each other and rival parliaments claiming legitimacy on opposite ends of the country.
The situation has become more urgent with the rise of groups claiming allegiance to the radical Islamic State group and carrying out attacks around the country.
This latest round of talks — which brings the rival Tripoli and Tobruk governments face to face for the first time — began on March 5 and focused on setting up a national unity government and security arrangements.
Leon indicated that with the latest consultations and changes to the delegation, the parties were ready for the final negotiation phase.
A stumbling block remains though with the armed militias connected to each side. Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the commander of Tobruk's forces, denounced the talks on Tuesday.
"The U.N. and Europe cannot oblige us to sit at the table with terrorists," he told the Italian ANSA news agency. "Forming a unity government with leaders of extremist movements, as proposed by mediators would... subvert the results of elections and the will of the vast majority of Libyan citizens."
Representatives of the Tripoli government at the talks, meanwhile, called Hifter a war criminal on Friday.
Leon, when asked about Hifter's position, dismissed the idea that there were any extremists involved in the talks.
"This is a deal between moderates and people who want a peaceful solution," he said, adding that the international community believed these negotiations to be the only solution to the crisis.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.